*This story originally appeared in the December 13, 2017 issue of The Budget’s Local Edition
By Stacey Carmany
While art may not be a solution to life’s troubles, it can provide a temporary escape. It’s a lesson that 68-year-old Twila Christner of New Philadelphia has learned firsthand since discovering the joy of painting.
For Christner, who has been afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis for the last 30 years, the art form gives her an opportunity to forget her pain and struggles and channel her energy into something positive.
“I think it’s the answer to a lot of things,” the artist shared. “Really, art does help. I can start to do art and just forget my troubles.”
Over the years, Christner’s disease has progressed to the point that her fingers are crooked and swollen, yet she continues to paint and delights in sharing the joy of creation with others.
Christner currently teaches students five days a week, giving private lessons out of her home and leading classes at Joann Fabrics and the Tuscarawas County Center for the Arts.
She also spends one day each week painting with the clients of Person Centered Services, an agency serving area adults with developmental disabilities. “They enjoy it so much, and I make it fun for them,” she shared. “It does a lot for you. I love them, and they love me.”
While her first love is oils, the artist noted that she can teach in a variety of mediums. “I can teach watercolors, pastels, acrylics, anything,” she said.
One of the reasons Christner said she prefers working with oils is because the medium is so forgiving. “If you make a mistake, you can fix it any old which way,” she explained. “With oils, you can fix absolutely anything.”
One thing Christner said she always tries to emphasize when working with students is that there is no need for perfectionism. Her mantra: “Just get it done and move on.”
When it comes to her own paintings, the artist said she will paint anything, anytime, and does her best work when she’s “under inspiration.”
Much like her favorite artist, Norman Rockwell, Christner said she likes her pieces to tell a story. She also tries to include a bit of humor.
Her themed series “Whoa! Too much horse!” follows an Amish couple as they experience for the first time various forms of high-speed transportation including a motorcycle, a speed boat and a Ford Mustang. “If I had a dollar for every laugh that I’ve gotten out of that and from the Amish, I would be a rich person,” she shared.
Christner said the idea for the series came to her during a drive with her friend and his wife.
“We were going through traffic, and this motorcycle just kept going around. He said to his wife, ‘I should get a motorcycle. You could hang on my suspenders and we could go places,’” she explained. “I thought, ‘Boy, this would make a picture.’”
For her another series that she calls her “Soul series,” Christner used a Kia Soul to illustrate various expressions that use the word soul. “Rest my soul” features the car in a junkyard; “Bless my soul” depicts the car being blessed by a priest; and “Soul Survivor” shows the car in a demolition derby.
The artist plans to have both series printed onto note cards or postcards.
In addition to her canvas paintings, the artist has also painted on feathers and even hand tools. She has completed several paintings on saws, and noted that one of the first was a piece featuring mule deer in the snow commissioned by her husband’s boss at Belden Brick. The piece was to be a gift for his father, who had helped to build the Alpine Bible Church in Sugarcreek. “He had a saw that his dad had used, and he wanted me to paint it,” she explained. “He was so thrilled, and I have to admit it was one of my prettiest ever. I believe that was one of my first ones, and I’ve done a lot of them since.”
Christner noted that the pieces have been so well received that she now scours garage sales for old saws.
A sampling of Christner’s work is available for sale at Arts on Broadway, located at 112 N. Broadway in Downtown Sugarcreek. The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Christner currently leads an adult painting group every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Tuscarawas County Center for the Arts. For more information, or to register for the group, call 330-339-2787 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.